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Connections: Time Stands Still

Thu, 05/16/2019 - 17:41

Although I have been known to carry on about how wonderful it is to live in a house that has been in the family for generations, and to answer proudly that “it came with the house” when someone asks about the provenance of some object or other, the other side of this seeming attachment to history and old things is, simply put, a deep-seated resistance to change.

This is why we have let the floor of our sun porch become remarkably chipped and worn, and have not painted it for I’m not sure how many decades, but at least six: because the old green floor paint — or what remains of it — is a family heirloom. 

The story goes that it is boat paint belonging to my late husband’s grandfather Edwards and that it came out of the old Promised Land fish factory, a relic of the days when the bunker boats brought ashore menhaden to be ground into meal and oil. I don’t know if actual fish oil went into the paint, as the old story went — it seems surprising, given how famously pungent that bunker oil was — but it is clearly oil based and it seemed to last forever. 

My daughter, however, despite having similar inbred suspicions of change, especially when it comes to old houses, has decided that the sun porch floor has reached a point at which it no longer looks charmingly worn and shabby chic but, instead, just looks shabby and grim. She is trying to match the green and plans to have it painted for the first time since the 1960s or 1950s.

Looking around this week, there are plenty of things “that came with the house” that probably will always remain exactly where they are, as long as the house is standing. In my late mother-in-law’s day, huge Christmas cactuses with myriad red blooms in winter filled a shelf in an otherwise somewhat somber dining room. I passed one of these ancient giants on to a cousin and then, in what turned out to be a foolish mistake a few years ago, put the others outdoors for the summer; instead of being refreshed, they became fodder for marauding deer. The dining room window, though, is perfect for Christmas cactuses, and we bought new ones to replace the old, and they are thriving, albeit not as large as the old ones were. Yet.

The dining room also has a built-in corner cupboard and a free-standing hutch full of the best Copeland Spode china that an English friend gave my mother-in-law many decades ago, as well as china pieces collected on her own travels to Shanghai and other parts of Asia in the 1920s. These include numerous antique Chinese bowls, large and small, and some ornamental teapots and cups and saucers that have never done anything but sit on a shelf. At some point in the 1970s, we also put her vintage cabbage-leaf and red-lobster serving dishes in there, alongside decorative spoons and forks embedded with enamel, a cigarette case that my late father-in-law brought home from Russia, and, from my side of the family, an antique brass Hanukkah menorah.

All of these items have more sentimental value than real value, but they carry with them a sense of responsibility: You do not want to be the person to get rid of them, but all they do is gather dust. The time, I am sure, will come in the not too distant future when the next generation, and the children following them, will be confronted by the question of “keep it or give it away,” but, for now, time stands still on Edwards Lane.

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